Thursday, March 28, 2002

Education in Athy in 18th Century

During the reign of Charles II, Parliament enacted that “all schoolteachers should take the Oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy and be licensed by the Ordinary”. Intended to place education under the control of the Established Church, the Act served to deprive Irish Catholics of educational opportunities within their own country. One legislative loophole, which allowed the children of wealthy Catholic families to be educated abroad, was closed during the reign of William III. At the same time the Church of Ireland authorities pressed for stricter compliance with the Act of 1537 which required their clergy to establish and maintain parish schools.

Until the 1790’s the working class children of Athy received no formal education. The Established Church did not have a parish school in the town while no Catholic teacher was licensed to teach his co-religionists. The children of well-to-do families were able to attend fee paying private schools. Athy is recorded as having such a school as early as 1670. About that time Isaac Dalton operated a Latin school in the town which in 1717 had John Garnet as headmaster.

The following contemporary account is taken from the Autobiography of Pole Cosby of Stradbally, Queens County :

“In 1716 when we came over from England my father got one, the Rev. Mr. West, to live in the house to be my Tutor, and so I was in the house learning Latin from Mr. West till Witsontide 1717, and then my father finding me not improve, he sent me to one Mr. John Garnet who kept the Latin School in Athy, and was just then come to Athy, and succeeded Mr. Issac Dalton who had kept school there for about 40 years. I lodged at said Mr. Daltons who used to examine and instruct me after school time. I lodged with him till 1718 when Mr. Garnet married and went to housekeeping, and then I went and lodged with him and continued with him while I stayed in Athy, the chief of my schoolfellows whilst I was here at school were Thomas Keightin (Keating) son of Col. Thos. K. of Narraghmore, Robert Pinsent now a Minister, Jr. Doyle now a Minister, and Schoolmaster of Athy, Emerson Peirce son of Col. H.P. of Seskin in ye county of Wicklow, Warner Westenra, Billy, Dick, and Ben Fish of Toberogan, Joe Ash now of Ashfield in the County of Meath and Dillon his brother, Saywell Stubber’s brother Meredith, Hector and Billy Vaughan of Golden Grove, Charly Willington of ye Kings County, Cox. Billy Welldon, and Geo. Welldon brother of Arthur Welldon of Rahin, Dick Nuttall and Joe his brother, Billy and Tom Bunbury of y County Carlow and Harry Bunbury who married Miss Pinsent, Harry Ecklin, bro. to Sir Arthur, Joseph Paul of Rathmore in the County Carlow, Elias and Weaver Best, Hutty Barnet, Ned Armstrong, who married Miss Holmes, John Short of Grange in the Q.C, six sons, all Gerald Fitzgerald sons of Coolenoule in the Q.C., Noll Grace of Skehanagh and two or three of his brothers, Ned and Murray Lyndon, James Lewis, Nehemiah Laban, John King now a Minister, Frank Cosby of Vicarstown, Tom and Ralph Pilsworth, Graham Bradford, Ben Bradford, Tom Thompson now a Minister, John Bradford, Arthur Newburg son of Col. N. of Ballyheys in the county of Cavan, Thomas Brook grandson to Ben. Burton the Banker.

While I was at the school of Athy I did constantly learn to write the first year, of one Mr. Milam and after of one Mr. Ternan Rourke. I also learnt to dance one quarter of one Mr. Michael Commons, afterwards he married at Ballymannus, and another quarter of one Mr. Gold. Whilst I was at this school I frequently used to go (to Coz. Meredith at Shrowland, and the widow Lewis of Tullgory) of a Saturday and stay till Monday, and used often come home to my prejudice as to learning.”

In the 1781/82 Parliamentary session an Act was passed permitting Catholic teachers to teach in local schools. However, the inevitable sting in the tail provided that Catholics could not teach their co-religionists unless they were licensed by clergy of the Established Church. Understandably Catholics were reluctant to seek the necessary permission while the Established Church clergy were equally reluctant to accede to such requests when made. This restriction was finally removed about 10 years later thereby paving the way for the introduction of Catholic Schools for the first time since the Reformation.

Depositions taken in May 1798 during the rebellion of that year included references to James Delahunty, Schoolmaster, Athy and James Robinson, Schoolmaster, Foxhill. Their Irish names and their involvement with the United Irishmen suggest Catholic backgrounds. If this is correct then it probably indicates that Athy had a Catholic School at that time, whether a free or a fee paying school we cannot now say.

In 1791 the town had a boarding school for boys provided by a Mr. Ashe. One of the pupils that year was Thomas Lefroy, a future local Chief Justice of Ireland. Another pupil was his brother, Ben Lefroy born in 1782 who married a Miss La Nouse from County Cavan and settled at Cardenton House, Athy, which remained in the family until 1946. In 1793 Anthologica Hibernica referred to the existence in Athy of a public school for the classics with a teaching salary of £40 a year paid by the Duke of Leinster, Athy Borough Council and representatives of the Weldon family. The Select Committee in the House of Commons on Foundation Schools set up in 1857 investigated the alleged endowment of this school. It reported :-

“No such school exists or as far as the Assistant Commissioner could learn, ever did exist.”

In the Minute Book of the Athy Borough Corporation for June 24th 1779, there appears the following entry:

“That it was agreed to give £15 a year to a schoolmaster, for the said Borough, which is to be ratified by an act of assembly of the said Borough.”

The Corporation’s Minute Book does not indicate that the necessary confirmation was ever made and perhaps more conclusive is the fact that no payment was ever made on foot of the decision. In Rawson’s Statistical Survey of County Kildare, published in 1807, Athy is credited with having a Classical School and two female Boarding Schools. No evidence has been found to support Rawson’s claim for the two Boarding Schools, but since he was an Athy resident it may be assumed that this information was accurate.

Thursday, March 21, 2002

Sisters of Mercy Mission to Australia

There are many links between Australia and our home town of Athy, not all of which have been identified to date. Prisoners from the town jail forged many of those earlier connections but it was the 1860’s which provided the most enduring link between this part of Ireland and Australia. In 1861 Fr. Andrew Quinn, then Parish Priest of Athy asked Mother Teresa Maher of the local Convent of Mercy for nuns willing to volunteer for missionary work in Australia. The Parish Priest, a native of west Wicklow was the brother of two Australian-based Bishops, Dr. James Quinn of the dioceses of Brisbane and Dr. Matthew Quinn of the dioceses of Bathurst and it was for Brisbane that the nuns were sought.

Mother Teresa was first cousin of Dr. Cullen, Archbishop of Dublin and daughter of Patrick Maher of Kilrush. Born in 1820 she arrived in Athy from the Mercy Convent in Carlow in 1855 with Sr. Xavier Downey to take charge of the local convent following the departure of Mother Vincent Whitty who was the first Superior of Athy’s Sisters of Mercy. Mother Teresa agreed to receive and train in the Athy Convent young ladies for the Australian mission and the first girl to enter the convent for that purpose was from Portarlington, County Laois. Catherine Flanagan, born on 1st September 1844, the daughter of Denis and Mary Flanagan entered Athy Convent on 10th August 1861, was received into the Mercy Order on 11th February of the following year and professed on 21st February 1864. Her name in religion was Sr. Rose and she left Athy for the Brisbane mission arriving there on 11th November 1865. She died in Brisbane on 1st July 1879.

On 2nd November 1866 five more young Irish women arrived in Brisbane, Australia having journeyed from the Convent of Mercy in Athy. Sr. Columba was born Honoria Griffin on 10th March 1840 in Ballintubbert, Co. Roscommon to John and Elizabeth Griffin. She entered the Athy Convent on 24th February 1865, receiving the habit of the Sisters of Mercy on 10th September of the same year and was professed in Brisbane in 1868. Margaret Bergan, daughter of Edward and Catherine Bergin of Portlaoise was born on 6th February 1842 and entered the Athy Convent on 2nd July 1865. She was received on 28th December of the same year and professed as Sr. Julianna in Brisbane on 31st March 1869. Julia Quirke, a native of Clashmore, Co. Waterford born on 5th October 1843 to Thomas and Julia Quirke, took the name Sr. Regis when she entered the Athy Convent on 31st August 1865. Another passenger on the long boat trip to Australia which ended in Brisbane on 2nd November 1866 was Sr. Borgia, otherwise Jane Byrne of Arron Quay, Dublin. Born on 16th September 1843 to Thomas and Mary Byrne, she entered the Convent at Athy on 8th September 1865 and her profession took place in Brisbane on 31st March 1869. She lived until 1928.

Within another two years five young postulants set out from the Convent of Mercy in Athy to travel to Brisbane. They journeyed on the Zealandia which left England on 24th April 1868. Mary-Ann Hartley, born to John and Katherine Hartley of Youghal, Cork on 24th July 1845 entered the Athy Convent on 21st November 1866 where she received the Mercy habit on 21st May the following year. She left the Mercy Order without being professed after her arrival in Australia, as did her companion Elizabeth Friary of Templemichael, Co. Longford. Elizabeth who was born on 25th July 1847 to Andrew and Mary Friary had joined the Mercy Order in Athy on 15th February 1867. She was to leave the Sisters of Mercy in January 1873 without apparently having been professed.

Two other postulants on that trip were Sr. Cecilia and Sr. Lignori, the former from Dysart, Co. Louth where she was born to Thomas and Bridget Carney on 26th June 1846. Sr. Lignori was a native of Nenagh, Co. Tipperary where she was born on 15th January 1848, the daughter of William and Mary-Ann Kealy. Like Sr. Cecilia she had joined the Athy Convent of Mercy during the Famine years. Sr. Cecilia died in Brisbane in 1889, while Sr. Lignori lived for another 33 years, dying on 13th May 1923.

The fifth postulant to travel on the ship which arrived in Australia on 4th July 1868 was Sr. Mary Patrick who had entered the Athy Convent on 8th June 1866. The daughter of James and Elizabeth Potter of Killashee, Co. Longford, Sr. Mary Patrick was professed in Brisbane on 6th July 1869. Sister Patrick joined the staff of All Hallows School in Brisbane after a few years in Australia and she was to be associated with that school for the next 50 years. In 1879 she was elected Superior of the Sisters of Mercy Congregation and was re-elected to that office on several occasions until her death in 1927. In all she was Superior for 30 years and assistant to the Superior for another 18 years. Under her guidance and leadership the Sisters of Mercy Congregation in Brisbane, Australia grew to over 500 and she was instrumental in establishing Mercy convents and schools in many outlying areas of Queensland. Another of her many achievements was the establishment of Mater Hospitals in Australia.

The five postulants who arrived in Australia in July 1868 were the last missionaries to leave the Convent of Mercy Athy for the dioceses of Brisbane. Difficulties arose between the Sisters of Mercy and Bishop James Quinn which may have affected the continuation of the Brisbane Mission Scheme initiated in 1861. Mother Vincent Whitty who was the first Superior of the Convent of Mercy when it opened in 1852 had been replaced by Mother Teresa Maher. Eight years later Mother Vincent left Ireland for the Australian missions and was accompanied on the sea trip to the Southern hemisphere by Dr. James Quinn. She was to share with Bishop Quinn responsibility for establishing the Catholic system of education in the then developing colony of Queensland. However difficulties soon arose between the Bishop and Mother Vincent. The Bishop who had been appointed to the Queensland Episcopacy in 1858 wished to bring the Catholic schools established by the Sisters of Mercy under the control of the Queensland Board of Education. Mother Vincent feared that such a move would lead to a dilution of the schools’ religious ethos. She resisted Bishop Quinn’s plans and this resulted in a disharmonious relationship between the Bishop and the Sisters of Mercy, news of which soon percolated back to the Convent in Athy.

Further conflict arose following Bishop Quinn’s attempt to extend his Episcopal authority over the Mercy Convents in his dioceses so as to supersede the Rule of the Foundress of the Order of Mercy. A number of diocesan priests also fell foul of Bishop James Quinn and six Irish priests left the Brisbane dioceses in 1867 following which news of the ongoing disharmony in the Brisbane diocese reached Ireland. The last Missionaries from the Convent of Mercy Athy left for Queensland the following year.

The story of the nuns and postulants who left Athy for the Australian Missions between 1865 and 1868 needs further research, particularly in the Brisbane archives of the Sisters of Mercy. For the moment their story can only be touched on to give us a glimpse of the extraordinary courage and determination of the young religious females of 140 years ago.

Thursday, March 14, 2002

St. Joseph's School Roll Book

I recently had the opportunity to inspect the roll book of St. Joseph’s School for 1946 and was pleasantly surprised to find that on 13th May of that year two young lads started their first day in school. They were the only pupils enrolled that particular day. Frank English and myself were unaware until now that our paths had crossed at such an early age for it was the two Frank’s who stepped over the threshold of St. Joseph’s for the first time on that day 56 years ago. For one it was the day after his 4th birthday, while the other young fellow had taken a little longer to ease himself out of nappies! I won’t tell you which of us was the precocious one.

Those of us who went through St. Joseph’s School, the Christian Brothers primary school and later the secondary school may have a little difficulty in immediately recognising the name “Frank” English because in those far off days my good friend was universally known as “Harry” English. Frank or Harry and myself were just two of the many young lads who over the following 14 years or so came together as school colleagues in an educational system which for many ended before those 14 years had expired. All of us had gone from the Christian Brothers secondary school in St. John’s Lane by the end of 1960. Over the years there were many names and many faces which came and went, some disappearing on the tide of emigration. Others sadly passed away long before they had reached their prime. No matter how long or how short the period we shared together as schoolboys, the bonds of friendship created survived the advancing years. Some of us have not met for over 40 years. Others can be seen among the familiar surroundings of our hometown on a regular basis.

This year quite a lot of those old school pals who spent so many years together as young fellows will reach the grand age of six score. Whisper it softly for my still youthful mind finds it hard to fathom the physical cruelties of the galloping years which so ungallantly outstrip my zest for life. So what’s all this about then I hear you ask? Simply the advancing years have sounded a bugle call to remind a couple of former school pals to get together and arrange a reunion of those with whom we shared our young school days between 1946 and 1960.

Brendan McKenna, now retired and enjoying his hard earned pension, together with Seamus Ryan still working and living in China, and Michael Robinson, he of the hedonistic lifestyle in Australia, have joined with Frank English and myself to organise a reunion scheduled for Athy next September. The intention is to get everyone back to Athy for the weekend of 20th to 22nd September to meet, talk, eat, drink and make merry. It will be our first time to meet since we all left school and given the grey streaks lining the more hirsute amongst us it will probably be our first and last such meeting.

A list of those with whom we attended school, whether in St. Joseph’s, the National or Secondary School is understandably incomplete, but the most recent head count identifies 59 former school colleagues. Addresses have been found for most of them but there are a few whose whereabouts are not yet known. I would like to hear from anyone who knows the current whereabouts of Peter Allen, formerly of Meeting Lane, Des Byrne formerly of Moone, Eamon Dunphy formerly of the Bleach and Joe Gordan from the Dublin Road. My classmates will recall Theo Kavanagh of the Bleeding Horse but I am looking for his current address, as well as that of Johnny Mulhall, formerly of Geraldine Road and Frank Power whose father was a bank official. Jim Vincent, formerly of Woodstock Street and Christy Southwell are two others I would like to contact. What about Brian Fitzsimons, Leo Dempsey, Paddy Maher or Paddy O’Keeffe? One last name is that of Colin Seabrook who spent some time in Athy in the 1950’s.

If anyone out there can help locate any of the above or indeed if you remember sharing a classroom with Frank English or any of the others mentioned, give me a call or drop me a line. We want to make sure that as many as possible will have the opportunity to attend the reunion which will start on Friday, 20th September with a reception and get-together in the Leinster Arms Hotel. The first night will be given over to the men only with a buffet reception and drinks, accompanied by music from the 1950’s and 1960’s.

The Heritage Centre will host a school photographic exhibition over that weekend and on Saturday afternoon a presentation in the Town Council Chambers will be followed by a reception in Scoil Eoin, Rathstewart. Later that evening a dinner will be held in Kilkea Golf Club Restauant for the past pupils, together with their wives and partners. It is hoped to have as special guests on that night some of our old teachers. On Sunday a service of thanksgiving will be conducted in the old school yard in St. John’s, followed by a tree planting ceremony in Edmund Rice Square. The weekend proceedings will close with a buffet reception on Sunday afternoon.

You would expect someone like myself who writes of times past every week to remember the names of all the teachers who taught me over the years. Fortunately I can always rely on the likes of Teddy Kelly or John Mealy to recall the detail which I can never seem to remember, and both of them confirm our teachers in St. Joseph’s School as Sr. Bernadette, Sr. Brendan and Sr. Alberta. In the Primary School we had Brother Candy who was replaced by Brother Sullivan, then Brother O’Laughlin or Loughran, with Brother O’Flaherty in sixth class. There is confusion about the 4th or 5th class teachers as some recall Brother Smith, others Bob Martin, neither of which taught me so far as I can recall.

Secondary school, which in the 1950’s consisted of three classrooms at the top of the metal staircase leading from the St. John’s Lane school yard was easier to remember. The teaching staff consisted of two Christian Brothers, the school Principal Brother Burke and his colleague Brother Keogh, commonly known as “Johnny Boris” with Paddy Riordan, then a young man from Cork and the legendary Bill Ryan. Today’s secondary school re-located some years ago to Rathstewart and now restyled Scoil Eoin has 23 teachers on its staff.

At least forty two years have passed since the young fellows who joined St. Joseph’s School in 1946 passed out of the Irish education system. Hopefully next September we can all come together to renew old acquaintances and catch up on the years which have slipped away in the meantime.

Thursday, March 7, 2002

Alice Myles

“If you can get your stockings on in the morning, then you know you’re alright.” Words of empirical wisdom from a woman who has lived for 96 years and who celebrated her birthday last week with a night out with her extended family. Alice Myles was born in 1906, the second child of Daniel Lacey, a carpenter from Ballintubbert, and Ellen Donohue, a seamstress from Tankardstown. Dan worked for Hosies of Coursetown, while Ellen served her time as a seamstress with Murphy’s Commercial House in Emily Square. Alice and her younger sister Helen Conway who is living in Inch just outside Athy have a combined age of 189 years. Longevity is clearly a family trait, as evidenced by the fact that their other sister Mary was 96 years of age when she passed away three years ago.

I met Alice Myles last week in the comfortable house which has been her home for the past 17 years. She moved there from “Woodlands” which was one half of the old Fever Hospital on the Stradbally road and where she had lived with her late husband and family for many years. Alice who was born at Farmerstown attended the Sisters of Mercy School in Athy until she was 16 years of age. Her school days coincided with the War of Independence and that dark period in our history when the Black and Tans and the Auxiliaries terrorised so many local Irish communities. She remembers the days of fear following the killing of William Connors and Jim Lacey at Barrowhouse on 16th May, 1921.

On leaving school she took up employment as a child minder with Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Minch at Cardenton. There she was to remain for five years, caring for the Minch’s only child Claire, recalling one occasion when she brought Claire to the birthday party held for Joe O’Neill, then the very young son of the local doctor, Jeremiah O’Neill. The Minch’s had two other indoor staff, Molly Keogh of Rheban who was the family cook and Margaret Moloney of Coursetown who was the parlor maid. Alice remembers attending dances in the mid 1920’s with her friend and work colleague Molly Keogh at Churchtown National School, and also an occasional cross roads dance at Kilcrow. This was a time long before laws were passed to regulate and control public dancing in Ireland.

A period of four years was spent by Alice as a child’s nanny for the Browne’s of Dun Laoghaire before she returned to marry her childhood sweetheart William Myles who was chauffeur and general worker with Matt Minch of Rockfield House. Alice and Bill lived in a tied house [now demolished] at Rockfield, one of several small cottages provided by the Minch’s for their workmen. It was here that the Myles family lived until about 1952 when they moved to “Woodlands” on the Stradbally road. Times were hard during the 1930’s and the 1940’s but especially so during Bill Myles’ prolonged illnesses in the early 1940’s. There was little money to pay the food bills and what was available was invariably passed across the counter of Miss Murphy’s small grocery shop in William Street. It was around that period that Bill Myles was admitted to Kildare District Hospital where he remained for many weeks in a serious condition. Alice recalls cycling from Athy to Kildare several times to visit her husband, a journey which caused her little thought as the bicycle was the only reliable mode of transport in those war years. Bill Myles who spent his entire working life with the Minch’s of Rockfield House died in 1975, aged 73 years.

Alice and Bill Myles had eight children, the eldest Betty who recently retired from a stockbroking firm in New York where she has lived since 1965. Paschal lives in London, as does his brother Oliver who is married to Maura Keeffe of Convent View. The other sons of the family are Paul, who is also living in England, Cyril who lives in Tankardstown and Noel, the youngest of the family who lives in Athy and works in Minch Nortons. Also in Athy are Martha who married Jack Kenny of Dunbrin and Helen who married Joe Phillips of Tankardstown. Helen will be remembered as the assistant in Mrs. Hughes’ shop in Leinster Street where she worked for over forty years until the business closed two years ago.

Alice Myles’ memories of her years in Dublin include Croke Park on All Ireland day, 31st September 1928 when she watched Kildare beat Cavan by one point to become the first holders of the Sam Maguire Cup. [While on the subject of the 1928 final can anyone tell me whether Paddy Fitzpatrick who at one time captained the Rheban football team played for Kildare in that final?]. The first scheduled airplane flight out of Dublin was also recalled by Alice who had a view of the plane as she stood on O’Connell Bridge. With a little bit of prompting from her grand-daughter, Alice also included amongst her Dublin memories the occasion where she went out with Paddy Moloney, whose son and namesake has fronted the musical group The Chieftans since its formation.

Alice’s recall of the 1928 All Ireland final is indicative of her abiding interest in Gaelic football, an interest which was crowned by the selection of her youngest son Noel and that of her nephew Ned Conway for the Kildare County senior team. Ned, son of her younger sister Helen, played for Kildare in 1954, while Noel whom she proudly acknowledges was a very good player, appeared in a Lily White jersey between 1973 and 1976. Indeed Noel was a member of the Kildare senior team which lost heavily to Dublin in the 1975 Leinster final, thereby disappointingly failing to add to the under-21 Leinster final medal which he had won with the county team in 1967.

The Myles family moved to “Woodlands” which was one part of the old Fever Hospital in or about 1952. Their neighbours in the other half of the building which was built in 1841 out of funds collected locally in Athy town were the Moylad sisters, Bridget, Sarah and Annie who had originated from the Kildangan area. Mention of the old Fever Hospital prompted Alice to recall the death of her uncle Johnny Donoghue while a patient in the Fever Hospital at the turn of the last century. Another uncle, Paddy Donohue, a private in the Royal Irish Regiment and a native of Coolroe, died of wounds in France on 31st May 1915. He was one of the many Athy men who perished during the 1914/1918 War. His brother, Tom Donohue, died as a young boy some years previously when he fell into the River Barrow at Levitstown.

Alice who is an extraordinary youthful 96 years of age travelled extensively once her family was reared. She has been to the United States on no less than 12 occasions, her last trip undertaken when she was 88 years of age. England, Lourdes, the Holy Land and even The Bahamas have all been visited by Alice, who with some reluctance now acknowledges that she will probably not go on any more overseas trips.

It was a real pleasure to talk and listen to Alice Myles who has seen her native town of Athy rise from the poverty and misery of the early decades of the last century. Her memories of times passed are tinged with some sad memories, but are also overlaid with a great deal of happiness shared with her children and grand-children who form a large but close-knit family group of which she is justifiably proud.